Saturday, October 26, 2013
a letter from Africa
Themba Sibanda sent me this message from South Africa:
Hello Mr Fred Owens I need your help I am Thembe Sibanda, Precious Sibanda she's my aunt, I am staying in South Africa its hard cs I am a foreigner and both my parents past away I am 21years and I want a good life and make my family better its hard Mr Owen please help me to come to America please help me I will help you in the name of jesus & I beg you Mr Owen.
Thembe is my relative by marriage, so it is appropriate that he comes to me for help & advice. I was married to his Aunt Precious. Thembe is the son of her brother Lawrence who has passed away. Thembe grew up in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Hardship and political turmoil has driven many young Zimbabweans like Thembe into exile. They go south, across the Limpopo River, they swim across the river and hide in the bushes from armed patrols, and they make their way down to Johannesburg where they can find work.
But the immigrants are not welcome. They are nothing but cheap labor, to be exploited, to be robbed, to suffer in the worst housing. Even so they can make money, and if they hold fast, then can improve. So I wrote back:
Thembe, you must pray for strength and carry on as best you can. Never give up! You are young and strong, you will survive, and someday your dreams will come true. Make the best of what you have --- and listen to me -- you must stay away from bad people. Choose your friends carefully. Only chose friends who are honest and helpful..... do not choose friends who steal and lie and fight -- this is my advice for you and I will pray for you every day.
Johannesburg has a high rate of violent crime and immigrants from Zimbabwe are so vulnerable. Thembe's father Lawrence worked as a security guard at a jewelry store and he was killed in an armed robbery -- this is much too common in Jo-burg as it is called. For that reason, my strongest advice to Thembe was to choose his companions carefully because in that way he will increase his personal safety. Running with the fast crowd in Jo-burg can quickly lead to death and prison.
I could have also said "read books and pursue any opportunity for education" -- but to this young man, I wanted to say only one thing and that is to choose your friends wisely -- because you have a choice in that regard. Other circumstances -- the poverty and violence of the immigrant community -- are beyond your control.
Even so, to be young and strong and brave and have a little hope for the future -- isn't that most wonderful?
Here is the photo he sent me.
Inline image 1
Thumb's Up, Thembe
Thembe Sibanda and his family come from Bulawayo in the southern region of Zimbabwe. Bulawayo was not prosperous in 1997 when I lived there, but it was decent -- there were no hovels or shacks, people lived in small brick houses with cold water taps and a flush toilet. The electricity worked. The water was potable. And all the children went to school and learned how to read and write.
But disaster struck in the form of two evils -- the AIDS epidemic struck down thousands of vital young people. I can recall the lineup of fresh graves at the Luveve Cemetery, and the reluctance of Zimbabweans to name it -- they would say of some deceased family member, "otherwise he had cancer" -- but he was only 32-years-old!
And the great political evil of Robert Mugabe who drove out all the white farmers and seized their lands for gifts to his corrupt henchman and they sold off the cattle, and ripped the fences and tore down the greenhouses and barns and ruined some of the most abundant farmland in southern Africa -- leading to near famine conditions in a country once well-fed.
It was these two disasters that drove hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans across the border to South Africa, which is where Thembe struggles with his hopes today.
My barn paintings feature the moon, the leaves, and the fishes in an underwater garden.
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